Do H1 Tags still Matter in SEO?

H1 Header Tags

Search engine optimization (SEO) has a lot of moving parts, but is H1 still critical? The short answer is yes, although it has become less significant over the years. Search engine algorithms will always be changing and growing, but we haven’t seen the end of H1 yet. That day may come — brand-new ranking factors are constantly popping up, but H1 still packs a mean punch.

Also known as a “header tag,” h1 in HTML is most often a post title or an otherwise highlighted “header” on any given website page. You’ll spot it because it’s the biggest, boldest and catches the eye. Header tags come in several kinds, but H1 is the most important. For years, H1 was heralded as one of the most influential ranking factors for search engines. It tells the Googles and Bings of the world what a web page is about. However, the importance of H1 has waned a little over the years as search engine algorithms got more sophisticated and able to “see” for themselves what a page is about, thanks to key phrases, keywords, and organic content. According to Moz’s search engine ranking factors cheat sheet, published bi-annually, H1, and its relation to keywords, remains a key factor.

Pulling Rank

Other SEO experts say that H1, even with prime keyword targeting, won’t improve a page’s rank. In one study, led by Rand Fishkin, it was found that simply making a keyword have a bigger font resulted in the exact same boost as an H1 tag. Getting caught up in solely the page ranking of H1 tags can be a mistake, especially if it’s essentially used as a keyword or key phrase.

The Real Power of H1 - User Experience

Don’t forget about the user experience, which is really the most important factor of all. If an H1 tag can lead to a better user experience and easier navigation, why not include it? For anyone slightly familiar with website building and/or HTML, it’s just as much effort to input an H1 tag as it is to bold/size up regular content.

Google ranking focuses on more than just keywords and H1 tags. Google will also rank a page based on how well users can engage. Bounce rates are considered, and are usually the most efficient indicators. If someone visits a site or page and immediately bounces away, that’s a sign the page isn’t high quality or isn’t what they were looking for. H1 tags can help users better see if they’ve found the page/content they want — or not. High bounce rates lead to poor search engine ranking results. H1 is critical here because it’s the first thing visitors see on any given landing page. It’s a virtual landmark, and if someone is sure they’ve found the right page, they’re more likely to stay and peruse. This results in a long visit, which is SEO gold.

Humming Along

hummingbird-googleGoogle’s update to the Hummingbird algorithm is all about a better user experience — and gives websites a prime opportunity for making the most of their H1 tags. One of the best update features is that Google can now overlook keywords in queries to figure out the user’s real intent. There’s a difference between what users actually search for and what they are looking for. The disparity can be addressed with proper H1 tag usage.

It is recommended that H1 tags match title tags, to keep from confusing Google. Since H1 tags are essentially used the same as title tags, this is easy enough to accomplish. And, while it is possible to have multiple instances of H1 on the same page, and it won't hurt your rankings, it is generally easier for people to understand the intent of the page if H1 is used only once per page.

Writing Effective Titles

Writing attention-grabbing headlines and titles is a subject matter than has been studied profusely. One such study by the Nielsen Norman Group suggests the following keeping the following items in mind for writing great titles:

  1. Make sure the headline works out of context: To give readers the most benefit, treat titles like micro-content.
  2. Tell readers something useful: Tell people something they don't already know.
  3. Don't succumb to cute or faddish vocabulary: Not only is it difficult for non-native English speakers to understand, but it may undermine your professionalism.
  4. Omit non-essential words: Search engines only show around 65 characters, and too many details may obscure your real intent.
  5. Front load headings with strong keywords: Putting your keyword at the beginning of your title makes it easier to notice.

The content and placement of your titles is likely more important than whether you used an H1 tag or not. Put your effort in crafting effective titles that match the content of your blog post.

If this all sounds Greek (or Google) to you, don’t worry. That’s what your SEO gurus are for. Connect with Be Locally SEO today to optimize your H1 tags, and every other part of your SEO strategy.


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